Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Lazy Sunday After Indy

In light of hosting a 3-year-old’s birthday party yesterday here at the house with the in-laws staying AT said house, we’ll keep this (relatively) short and sweet because, while today may be a Lazy Sunday for some, I have to figure out how to get to a tree farm in Valley View, cut down a tree on a rainy morning and get it decorated…all before getting the assembled Milwaukeeans to a bar to watch the Packers play the Bears at 1 PM.

And with that (and me shuddering after merely typing that itinerary)…we’re off:
The Rule 5 Draft (not to be confused with the lesser-known and actually non-existent “Rule V” Draft) was conducted this past Thursday with the Indians losing LHP Chuck Lofgren to the Brewers (as Milwaukee hopes to develop him as a LOOGY, based mainly on his stellar numbers against LHP this year in Columbus and Akron) while they picked up RHP Hector Ambriz from the Diamondbacks organization to compete for a big league spot in the 2010 bullpen. As this is not generally my area of expertise, I’ll defer to the write-ups from Tony Lastoria and Andrew Humphries of the LGT to break these transactions (particularly the Ambriz addition) down with the proper depth.

What did the Indians get in Ambriz?
To my untrained eyes, his MiLB cumulative numbers (4.41 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.84 K/BB) don’t show too much, other than that he’s not a strikeout pitcher and that he’s not flown through the Diamondbacks’ system without his hiccups (he wouldn’t have been available in the Rule 5 if he had), as he is now 25 and just got his first taste of AAA this year. It will be interesting to see how the assembled coaching staff in Goodyear (Scott Radinsky and Ruben Niebla in particular) approaches Ambriz as the Indians did transition a good number of pitchers that were previously starters only into bullpen options by asking those arms to focus on a two-to-three pitch mix instead of attempting to master a four-to-five pitch repertoire. Since Ambriz has started 79 of his 83 games over the last three years, how his stuff translates to shorter stints will essentially determine whether he sticks or not (and B-Pro’s Kevin Goldstein puts the likelihood of that at about 5% that he sticks) is the $50,000 question.

If nothing else, Ambriz represents a middle relief option and probably nothing more. Don’t take that to mean that having a young, cost-controlled RHP that could supply some middle relief is not valuable, as we’ve been subjected to the likes of Danny Graves, Oldberto Hernandez, and Guillermo Mota out of the gate in the past few years with the idea that they’d pitch middle relief…with horrifying results. Ambriz now enters the bullpen mix and could be given a long leash to see if he can succeed in the early going of 2010 as so many of the other arms that figure into that middle of the bullpen mix (Jensen Lewis and Jess Todd in particular and Tony Sipp and Joe Smith to a lesser degree) still retain options. If Ambriz is able to translate his groundball ability (44% in the minors) to the Majors and remains a strike-thrower, he could turn into a useful piece that doesn’t cost the Indians much more than a roster spot.

Whether he does well enough in Spring Training or gets a long look once the 2010 season starts in the Tribe bullpen could mean that some of those aforementioned arms with options remaining (Jenny Lew and Jesse Ray Todd, I’m looking squarely at you) will start the season in AAA Columbus with…cue the trumpets…Charles Nagy as their pitching coach!

That’s right, all you friends of the feather who pine for the “Era of Champions” (while ignoring the fact that the Indians were never World Series Champions during that “Era” of the 1990’s), another former Tribesman has re-entered the fold as a coach for the young Indians as Charles Nagy joins Sandy Alomar, Jr. to mold the minds of these youngsters. While this news made some people’s days, I feel no different about it than I do the Alomar hiring, in that the nostalgia factor makes me warm and fuzzy for about 5 minutes, giving way to the thought that I hope that Charles Nagy knows what he’s doing as a pitching coach.

He was the Angels’ AAA pitching coach in 2006 and 2007 when he tutored the likes of Joe Saunders (both years), Jered Weaver (in 2006) …both of whom have made a nice transition to their big league club and represent two young talented arms that have translated MiLB success to MLB. Thus, the body of work is there to justify the return of Nagy to the organization in this post with the hopes that he can put the finishing touches on Rondon, Carrasco, and Jeanmar Gomez (most notably) as he did with the Angel hurlers. Not to suggest that talents akin to a Saunders and (more obviously) a Weaver are just sitting in the Indians’ organization, but if Nagy can turn some of these young arms into top-to-middle-of-the-rotation candidates instead of being back-end fodder, he’s doing his job splendidly. If he’s able to assist in that transition, I don’t care if his name is Gnarls Nagy…so long as some of these arms emerge from AAA ready to contribute and become mainstays in the big league pitching staff going forward.

One arm who will seemingly never emerge from the Minors to become a mainstay on the Tribe’s pitching staff is Adam Miller, who suffered yet another setback. While everyone is aware of the cautionary tale that Miller has come to represent and now know what TINSTAAPP means, it does essentially bring to a conclusion the chance that Miller will ever see the mound in Cleveland as his body simply would not allow his prodigious talent to mature into what everyone thought he would become when 2007 dawned.

In terms of the other major news of the last week that affects the Indians (albeit indirectly), Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson have left Motown, the innocent by-standers who turned into victims of other bad decisions made by the Tigers’ organization as Jon-Paul Morosi keenly points out:
Some may suggest that the Tigers agreed to trade Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson on Tuesday because the Michigan economy is not doing well.
That is false.
This deal happened for 92.1 million reasons — the number of dollars owed to Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman in 2010.
It's sad, really. The Tigers were doomed by their own generosity. They won a pennant in 2006, traded for Cabrera and Willis in 2007, and made a habit of rewarding players based on past accomplishments or the expectation of same.
Baseball teams do not win championships because of benevolence. They must make cold, calculating decisions about when to hold onto veteran players and when to let them go.
Time after time, the Tigers made the wrong choice. And now they have determined that the best way to atone for those errors is to trade away a pair of All-Stars before they make big money.

The topic du jour after the trade was Granderson’s issues with LHP, as his .484 OPS vs. LHP was 2nd last (and not even really all that close to 3rd last) among all MLB players with 125 or more plate appearances against LHP. For some perspective on that, Louie the Fifth had a .661 OPS vs. LHP in 2009…you know, the guy the Indians want to find a RH complement for at 2B because of his struggles against LHP. While Joe Pos makes a strong argument that he doesn’t think that Curtis’ struggles against LHP will be as much of an issue in the Bronx because the rest of the Yankees absolutely crush LHP, it’s hard to ignore that Granderson’s numbers against LHP were subterranean.

Granderson is no longer the Indians’ AL Central problem (as well as Jackson exiting the division, which shouldn’t be overlooked), as the Tigers’ big get in the deal is young K machine Max Scherzer from the desert. While most analysis of the deal centers on how Scherzer may represent an upgrade over Edwin Jackson right now in the Detroit rotation (not to mention being under club control for 3 more years than Jackson) the interesting contrarian point of view focuses on the long-term injury concerns for Scherzer from Arizona GM Josh Byrnes, coming via a Rob Neyer Sweet Spot post:
Diamondbacks had concerns about Scherzer's ability to remain healthy and develop into a perennial 200-inning workhorse, questions that stem from a violent, jerky pitching motion that many believe could lead to injury.

Scherzer’s development will be the interesting aspect of the Detroit team going forward as, if Scherzer is what some baseball people say he is, the top of the Tigers’ rotation just got pretty wicked with Verlander (though Morosi states in the piece linked earlier that Verlander is under contract for only two more years and will be in line for a big payday…one that might not come from Mike Ilitch, depending upon how the next two years go), Porcello, and Scherzer. Whether Scherzer finds immediate success (or even eventual success) in the rotation will determine whether this deal is a success for the Tigers and affects the long-term future of their team unlike the performance of any other Detroit player.

While the Granderson deal certainly represents the biggest news of the off-season to date, Ken Rosenthal floats a balloon out there for what he sees would be a possible solution to the Halladay situation in Toronto, one that would certainly be a bigger deal than Granderson going to the Bronx:
We know the Phillies preferred Halladay to Lee last July. We know they are one of his top choices, an East Coast team that trains close to his home in Dunedin, Fla. And we know from published reports that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. met last week with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, about a possible contract extension.
I'm guessing that discussion did not go well.

Both Lee, 31, and Halladay, 32, are free agents after next season. Halladay likely will require a contract extension to waive his no-trade clause. Perfect! By exchanging Lee for Halladay, the Phillies would ensure that they gain long-term control of an ace — Halladay, the one they wanted all along.
So, here's the deal: Lee goes somewhere for prospects. The Phillies include the prospects in their package for Halladay, maybe keep one or two for themselves. Halladay gets his extension, the Jays get a bounty of young players and some lucky team gets Lee for one year at his bargain salary of $9 million.

The bolded portion was admittedly bolded by me (as it brings us back to the idea that the INDIANS should have extended Lee), but if that scenario were to take place (as unlikely as it may sound the first time you hear it), could you imagine the Monday Morning Quarterbacking that would take place to see what that “lucky team who gets Lee for one year at his bargain salary of $9 million” in terms of comparing it to the Carrasco/Knapp/Marson/Donald haul?

The other “news” (and that term is used loosely and not offering contracts to Reyes, Miller, and Veras does not even constitute a loose use of the term “news”) is that the Indians may have an interest in Marcus Thames to be the RH bat to play LF and 1B, which makes sense as long as Thames plays about once every week or so and doesn’t take at-bats away from LaPorta or Brantley. As a RH bat, he offers something that Crowe and Brown cannot (well…actually a lot of things), but Thames has hit LHP at a .867 OPS clip over the last three years, so he would have some value on a LH-heavy roster and could simply complement Hafner (who may or may not be able to play consecutive games and could face LHP). That all being said, it would ostensibly end the Andy Marte Era in Cleveland (as difficult as it will be for some people to let that Era go) as Marte looks to the RH option off of the bench right now that can play 1B, a move that may be a little short-sighted when the Indians lack an obvious answer at 3B for 2011 when Peralta’s option won’t be picked up and The Chiz figures to start the 2011 season in Columbus. So long as any deal with Thames wouldn’t be a guaranteed MLB deal and wouldn’t automatically exclude Marte from future plans, I could find some merit to it; but giving Thames anything more than a minor-league deal isn’t entirely necessary.

Moving away from the Indians, it has been announced Sweet Pete Gammons is leaving ESPN for the MLB Network and (as well as becoming a studio analyst and reporter for NESN, the Red Sox flagship station in an obvious and brilliant counter move against, essentially removing any reason for me to watch ESPN or keep the WWL in my life in the least bit…outside of Bill Simmons, who’s just waiting for his escape hatch. Since I don’t think I’m alone in feeling nauseous at the sight of former players and columnist blowhards yelling at each other and contributing nothing substantial to “analysis”, I would also have to think that I’m not alone in thinking that this news is the death knell for that 4-letter word (which used to mean so much more) for many sports fans, who are now able to get their news from the sources they want instead of simply where it was most readily available, which WAS what was transmitting from Bristol. One of those sought-out sources has consistently been Gammons and we’ll continue to get him, presumably for free, and without the histrionics associated with the increasingly difficult to watch ESPN.

As for what the move means to the MLB Network, it means even better insight from people in the know and a nice complement to their growing stable of articulate former players who provide more than belly laughs or empty opinions for the sake of hearing themselves talk. MLB Network has come a long way in a short amount of time and this news cements the removal of ESPN from my cable “Favorites” button as I’ll now go straight to the MLB Network, with their slick production, intelligent banter, and all-encompassing baseball coverage. With Gammons in the fold at the MLB Network, the intelligent baseball fan (looking for more substance than style) wins out as better avenues to satiate their baseball appetite continue to be upgraded.

Winding it down here, while watching the most recent episode of “How I Met Your Mother” (one of the only 3 consistently funny comedies on Network TV…along with the 9:00 to 10:00 PM block on Thursday night on the Peacock), there was a flashback to a 15-year-old Marshall making a list of everything that he wanted to accomplish by the time he was 30. As the rat-tail sporting, overall-wearing Marshall laid his list down back in 1993, he referred to himself as…wait for it…Vanilla Thunder with the idea that his basketball exploits will have earned him that moniker. While this nickname is somewhat funny in a vacuum (and funnier if you’re aware of the urban definition for the term), it struck me that the co-creator and writer of HIMYM, Carter Bays, is a Cleveland native who regularly references the Indians in HIMYM episodes.

Why is this all relevant on a Sunday in which I have more pressing things to do than to recount a HIMYM episode? Because Vanilla Thunder is the nickname being championed by yours truly (and LGT’s Jay Levin) for one Matt LaPorta and, while I’ll stop short of saying that the HIMYM reference came from the Indians’ blogosphere, it would seem that the nickname could have gained some traction for Mr. Gator4God.

Finally, Vince Grzegorek over at ’64 and Counting has a fun piece (as usual) jumping off from Joe Posnanski’s obsession with Duane Kuiper by asking a couple of folks who their “Kuiper” is, with some sawed-off hack going on and on (again) about this mildy-upsetting Pat Tabler obsession.

That’s it for me, you can find me at some as-yet-undetermined location with a group of people watching the Packers-Bears game…I’ll be the one on with his head on the table taking a nap.

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